May 032012

Located at a beautiful site within a secluded walled garden, just a short distance from Aberdeen on the South Deeside Road is a wholesale nursery with a difference that is unknown to most people. The Fruitbat tells Aberdeen Voice more about this interesting, unique and worthwhile project.

Solstice Nurseries is an organisation that exists to provide training, qualifications and work experience to people with or recovering from mental illness.

On the face of it this sounds like many other organisations, whether they are charities or council run projects, but Solstice is run as a Social Firm – that is a not-for-profit business – in simple terms it means running as a commercial business but ploughing any profit back into the business.

The business consists of a wholesale plant nursery and garden maintenance services whereby people can stay and work in the nursery or, following training, go out and work with the maintenance team.

The maintenance squads cover the usual range of garden services such as grass cutting, pruning, weeding and tidying. Occasionally, people require a garden created from scratch and the guys have enjoyed working on these and seeing the finished design.

The nursery specialises in hardy Scottish Heathers, offering plants from a range of over 100 different varieties! We also sell perennial herbaceous plants and Alpines with most of our stock going to council landscapers, garden centres and nurseries.

Throughout the year there are small sidelines that help to keep everyone busy even in the bad weather such as table centrepieces for weddings, and a few years ago we started to make Christmas wreaths and some of the participants found hitherto unknown artistic talents to the extent that feedback from customers is fantastic.

People coming to Solstice for training and work experience usually begin with two days a week with the option to attend more often after initial training.

We pride ourselves in looking at the individual and their needs rather than focussing on a diagnosis.

For a number of folk, Solstice is their first stop following recovery and almost all need to regain or attain skills; this can be social and life skills in addition to employment skills and qualifications.

Participants can undertake a VQ Level 2 in Amenity Horticulture, which is taught on-site in partnership with Aberdeen College. A few people come to Solstice for a relatively short time before moving on to open employment, while for others Solstice is their supported workplace where they will stay and assist by ‘buddying’ new participants and helping with training.

This system boosts confidence and self-esteem for the ‘old timers’ and allays new people’s anxiety.

Visitors are always impressed when they see the nursery and realise the full extent of our operation with thousands of plants at varying stages of growth and up to twenty five participants all working away potting, weeding and propagating etc.

However, to save anyone from the impression of institutionalised regimentation, it’s worth also mentioning that there is a miscellany of dogs who accompany participants and staff to work and can be found playing together or lying at someone’s feet – not necessarily that of their owner. Currently we have eight regular attending dogs ranging from Chihuahuas to a St Bernard!

On a serious note, the dogs attending has helped a few folk who were nervous around animals, and the relaxed atmosphere they engender encourages socialising which is a huge part of recovery from mental health issues.

Therefore, not the usual run of the mill organisation, but nonetheless a successful one in terms of working with people and working on being successful commercially to ensure that we continue to be able to ‘grow people and plants.’